Thursday 15 June 2023

May 2023 – Helen Else discusses the new Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian role at Royal Papworth Hospital

This month, Helen Else joined us at the Medical School Library to discuss the creation of a new and unique role, the Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian. Helen started her career in schools before making a career change 6 years ago to enter the library sector. Impressively, Helen then achieved her MA and MCLIP simultaneously. Now working as the Library and Knowledge Services Manager at Papworth, Helen is passionate about providing a comprehensive patient outreach service.

So where did this new role come from? In 2021, Papworth Charity launched the Read a Little Aloud project, whereby members of Cambridge Library virtually read live to critical care patients. Acknowledging that being an inpatient can be extremely isolating and lonely, the Read a Little Aloud project aimed to improve patient wellbeing and aid recovery. The project prompted the Deputy Chief Nurse to ask the former Library Manager, “what more can be done to improve patient experience?”. While the benefits of reading on health and wellbeing are widely recognised, the impact of involving people in their own health and care is not emphasised enough. It was here that the idea of the Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian was born, and with the support of Papworth Charity, funding was secured for one year.

The first challenge was to design a completely new job profile. As it is the first of its kind, there was no template to use. Helen showed us the job profile she created and while it was quite long and had a lot of essential criteria, the most important quality was being a people person: the ability to communicate well, build trust, and create relationships with patients and ward staff is a huge part of this role.

Sarah Mathieson was appointed to the role in August 2022 and has already accomplished so much. Sarah has visited 121 wards so far, created patient handbooks and leaflets, ran training sessions in specialised areas e.g., health literacy, improved patient access to reliable sources of information, conducted evidence searches, and created an online form for clinical staff to contact her directly. Sarah has also established key networks, good relations with other trusts, and has continued to work closely with Cambridgeshire public libraries. All patients, even if their postcode is outside of the Cambridgeshire area, are able to access the electronic services available through Cambridgeshire Libraries. This includes newspapers and journals in many different languages. Helen explained that reading in English as a second language can cause additional stress to patients, so the availability of texts in other (non-translated) languages is really important. Sarah also achieved funding to buy 12 loanable iPads for patients to use if they don’t have an appropriate device to access these materials from.

While most Librarians don't usually have direct contact with patients, all aspects of the Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian role benefit patient care, either directly or indirectly. However, with funding only guaranteed for one-year, the future of this role is uncertain. Helen discussed the challenges of evidencing the impact of this position, especially because it has only existed for under a year. To help the trust decide, quantitative evidence is desired which is difficult because in the short-term, the measurable successes are mostly qualitative.


Helen’s talk was fantastic and I’m sure I speak for all CLG members when I say that our fingers are crossed that funding is granted to extend the Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian role.


Post contributed by Lily Swain - Graduate Trainee, Anglia Ruskin University.